In this summer of discontent for the Philadelphia Phillies most of the trade discussion has centered on starting pitcher Cole Hamels, as he approaches free agency. Hamels is indeed the biggest name on the rumor mill right now, but the Phils have another key piece on the market that’s far more likely to actually be dealt within the next two weeks and that’s centerfielder Shane Victorino. TheSportsNotebook evaluates the Shane Victorino trade rumors–the teams said to be interested, those that might be interested and those that should be interested.
Victorino started getting full-time major league at-bats in 2006 and that’s just about the time the Phils became good, as they contended for a playoff berth in ’06 and then began their current streak of NL East titles one year later. His on-base percentages were consistently in the .340/.350 range, save for an off-year in 2010 and his slugging percentages showed gradual improvement—again briefly interrupted by 2010—and peaked with last year’s .491 number, a season where he should have gotten some dark horse consideration in the MVP discussion. This year the player is on a bad year, at .311/.379, but at 31 years of age we can still just write it off to a bad year and even when Victorino doesn’t hit he plays a defensive centerfield that’s as good as any in the game.
The Phillies are 39-51, 14 games off the pace in the NL East and 11 games out of the wild-card. Even if St. Louis made a run from a similar deficit at a later date last year I think it’s safe to say the Phils need to be sellers and put their team together for 2013 and beyond. Hamels is going to command a top-of-the-market salary and the organization needs to put all their chips on signing the pitcher to a contract extension here in the next two weeks. That makes Victorino expendable and a farm system depleted by the win-now focus of the past few years needs the reinforcements he could bring.
Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Dodgers are said to be the top suitors for Victorino and he fits well in both places. The Reds have a gaping hole in centerfield, where Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs are both offensive liabilities. Even if Victorino’s worst offensive year continues he’s no worse than either of the Reds’ current outfielders and neither of them have Victorino’s upside and postseason experience. The Dodgers might have the National League’s best centerfielder in Matt Kemp, but the Bobby Abreu/Juan Rivera tandem in left field is a big weakness. If you bring in Victorino he can play center and you allow Kemp to play left, something that could give a needed break to the latter’s hamstring that’s been such a problem in the first half of the season.
One factor trading teams will have to consider is that Philadelphia’s park is hitter-friendly and while Victorino’s numbers were good, they aren’t stratospheric. The Reds could reasonably expect his career norms (.341/.433 stat line overall) to transfer to Great American Ballpark, but in the vast expanse that is Dodger Stadium, it’s prudent for Los Angeles to expect a dropoff. But the flip side to that coin is Victorino’s defensive range becomes an even bigger plus if you’re the Dodgers, or any other team playing in a big ballpark.
Based on the current rumors being reported over at ESPN.com, the Dodgers seem to be the most serious and given how bad their offense is beyond Kemp that makes the most sense. But given that the Reds really went all-in this season when they locked up Joey Votto for big money, and given that Dusty Baker isn’t going to get many more shots at managing a World Series winner, it makes sense to expect Cincinnati to get serious for some type of significant upgrade and the Victorino sweepstakes are as good a fit for them as they are for the Dodgers. Perhaps more so, given that Los Angeles has more weaknesses in the everyday lineup and could have their attention turned elsewhere.
Another team that would clearly be better by the addition of Victorino is the New York Mets, but what are the odds that two archrivals are going to strengthen each other? We might as well ask what the odds are of the Yankees and Red Sox getting together on a deal. Speaking of the Yankees, with Brett Gardner’s elbow still having him on the disabled list and Raul Ibanez defensively challenged, Victorino could fit with the Yanks. But that requires moving him or Curtis Granderson to left field, which certainly can be done, but isn’t as neatly logical as the Dodgers shifting Kemp as his sore hamstring to a corner outfield spot. It also presumes the Yankees taking their eye off the ball when it comes to starting pitching.
One team that’s not in the mix—at least publicly—but should at least be asking is the Cleveland Indians. As long you’re trotting Johnny Damon out to play left field every day, you should be in the market for outfield help. You can move Michael Brantley to left, slot Victorino in center and allow Damon to function as he should, which is a fourth outfielder and DH, who can help you with some intangibles in a playoff chase. While Cleveland’s first priority needs to be the corner infield, a move for Victorino is not a bad fallback strategy.
However it unfolds, the only way one can imagine Victorino still in a Phillies’ uniform on August 1 is if negotiations with Hamels fall apart—and perhaps not even then. And in spite of Victorino’s current numbers, his career trajectory and age suggest the Dodgers, Reds and maybe the Indians would be wise to pursue him and lock him to a 2-3 year contract extension.